Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kids in Church

My church is blessed with something of which many churches would be envious--we have lots of little children. We are close to a large military instalation so we have a lot of young families, and that means kids! They are the future of the church, and in many ways they are the present--so much of our parish life revolves around them! I love it when they smile at me, when they wrap their arms around my legs, or give me a freshly picked flower before church (out of the flowers in the beds around the door, mind you!) I am no more deeply humbled when one of them calls me "Jesus." (The allegation is not hard to explain. I am a man, I talk about God, I have a beard, and I seem to live at God's house....)

There is a down side. Kids are by nature noisy. From time to time folks who are not used to kid-noise in their own houses find that kid-noise in church is distracting. I can understand. When you have come to hear a scintilating sermon and cannot because a little one in the back wants to make the sermon a conversation it can be annoying. When the quiet of a holy moment is broken by a wailing waif it's hard to maintain heavenly thoughts. Less-than-charitable ideas about the quality of parenting these days renew our need for absolution just when we were assured we had it! And it's hardly a win-win situation. Not only do others find it hard to stay in a worshipping mode, Mom can't even begin to worship. She's distracted, embarrassed and flustered. Taking the kid out helps everyone else, but leaves Mom in the unholy silence of the Narthex wrestling with her ankle-biter-gone-demonic while the rest of God's people continue their pious prayers. And any opportunity to teach the kid how to worship is lost to the tyranny of whatever is eating at the little one's soul.

Perhaps I learned a valuable lesson while doing field work in seminary in Ecuador. My assignment was a brand new mission in a poor area of the city, and for a while we met in an unfinished upstairs room. The distractions there were not children, though we had plenty of them. It was the chickens and dogs that wandered through. I quickly learned to include kid-noise with the necessary sounds of good worship. So perhaps I'm a little less sensitive to the disruption than some, but I believe a godly forebearance toward our littler worshippers who have their own particular style is in order. If you find the noise hard to handle and you know the mother personally and know that she would trust you with her little one, a helping hand might let her stay and worship while you took a moment in the Narthex to let the child know how much it is loved. But if not, maybe we had best learn that the sounds of kids in our church is a symbol of vitality, a constant reminder that we DO have little children among us, and putting up with some kid-noise is a small price to pay for the opportunity to show them God's love. If Jesus welcomed the children and blessed them you have to wonder where He might feel more comfortable: in our stately and beautiful worship or out with the kids? May the "extra" sounds in our worship fill us with more gratitude than dismay.

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